Thursday 14 December 2017

. . . as US struggles with drought

Philip Sherwell

The fields on Eddie Melton's farm in the rolling terrain of western Kentucky should be covered by a thick, green quilt of 8ft corn [maize] stalks at this time of year.

Instead, withered brown plants barely half that height are straggling out of the barren soil. The sorry landscape, repeated in states across the American heartlands, is testimony to the worst drought to strike the region for more than half a century.

"This drought has already devastated the corn crop," said Mr Melton, who farms 1,500 acres. "We're just praying for some rain to save the soybeans."

The US agriculture department last week designated 1,297 counties across 29 of the 48 mainland states as "primary natural disaster areas".

The combination of low rainfall and high temperatures has produced America's largest drought zone since 1956, with more than half the country officially classed as suffering drought conditions.

And for many farmers, it is evoking stories from their fathers and grandfathers of the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s.

In a telling illustration of the drought's impact, a golf tournament in Indiana was halted last week after a player lost a ball down the fissures in the bone-dry earth of what was once a water hazard.

Corn and soybean farmers in the mid-West are reeling. And on the Plains, ranchers are selling their cattle early and cheaply as they struggle to feed livestock on scorched pastures after already using up next winter's stores of hay.

Consumers around the globe will encounter higher food prices as a result of the drought ravaging the world's biggest grain exporter.

Economists are warning that already volatile wheat-importing regions of Africa and the Middle East will face potentially destabilising increases in prices.

It is not just Mr Melton and his friends hoping for divine intervention. "I get on my knees every day and I'm saying an extra prayer right now," said Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, after briefing US President Barack Obama on the problem at the White House. "If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it."

The latest statistics from his department paint a grim picture. In the 18 corn-growing states hit by the drought, just 31 per cent of the crop is in good condition and 38 per cent is listed as "poor/very poor".

One decorator in Indianapolis, however, has found a commercial upside to the drought -- he is offering to paint brown lawns green.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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